The U.S. Department of the Interior and the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations agreed to a settlement on Tuesday to end long-running litigation regarding a lawsuit filed by the tribes regarding federal handling of tribal resources and funds held in government trust.
Speaking at the ceremonial signing on Tuesday at Choctaw headquarters in Durant, Oklahoma, Bill Anoatubby, Governor of the Chickasaw Nation, said the settlement was a milestone in tribal and federal relations.
“It is the beginning of a time of healing and it will enable us to move forward and work together for the benefit of everyone concerned,” Anoatubby said.
Gary Batton, Chief of the Choctaw Nation, believes his tribal community is now in a “time of healing” with the federal government.
“This is not just the settlement,” Batton said. “It’s that true nation-to-nation government relationship that we have that is begun today.”
As reported by The Oklahoman, this settlement resolves a decade long dispute regarding allegations that the U.S. government mismanaged over a million acres of land and other tribal resources in southcentral and southeastern Oklahoma. Tribes claimed the U.S. government failed to protect their interests when over a million acres of tribal land was sold between 1908 and 1940.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell joined the tribal leaders and thanked them for their willingness to build a mutually beneficial relationship between governments, saying the settlement will help both parties move forward.
“It [the settlement] recognizes there has been a very painful history between Choctaw Nation, the Chickasaw Nation and the United States government. But it also recommits all of us to moving forward in good faith,” Jewell said.
Jewell said transparency is a central component of the agreement. “We will be sharing information better than we ever have before,” Jewell said. “Transparency is one of the keys to a strong relationship, it helps us communicate effectively together about managing trust resources that we may hold on behalf of the tribes.”
According to the terms of the settlement, the United States will pay the Chickasaw Nation $46.5 million, and the Choctaw Nation $139.5 million, making it the fifth largest tribal settlement in U.S. history. The tribes have agreed to cease current litigation and withhold future lawsuits regarding the U.S. government’s historic handling of tribal resources held in federal trust.
The settlement also requires greater communication between tribal government and the U.S. government regarding the management of funds and resources held in trust by the federal government.